April 25 2012 10:25AM
The first forward to show up on our Flames prospect ranking is Paul Byron. Acquired with Chris Butler in the Regehr/Kotalik trade last summer, Byron's first season with the Flames was a bit of a mixed bag.
A former 6th round pick of the Sabres oin 2007, Byron was the 4th highest scorer for Buffalo's farm team the Portland Pirates in 2010-11. He earned a cup of coffee with the big team before the club shuffled him off to Calgary.
His scoring fell in the AHL with the Heat this year, unfortunately, with the smallish center gathering just seven goals and 21 points in 39 games (0.54 PPG). That must have been disappointing for both the player and the organization since he was acquired to boost scoring and, at 22-23 years old, was expected to take a step forward rather than a step back.
Nevertheless, Byron spent more time in the NHL this year owning to the Flames many injuries. In 22 games, he scored three goals and five points in a 3rd/4th line role. At times, he flashed the speed and puck handling skills that are his biggest strengths. Byron also proved to be firm on his skates and relatively difficult to knock off the puck despite only weighing about 180 pounds.
Unfortunately, the good shifts were outweighed by either the bad or non-existant at the big league level. Byron's underlying numbers during his tour of duty in Calgary were also terrible, even though Brent Sutter made sure to start him more often in the offensive zone and skate him against nobodies.
*Reminder - The evaluators were asked to rank players, and we sorted the rankings via a simple point scale-number 15 on each list got one point, while number 1 on each list got 15. The criteria for who was included was pretty simple: players the Flames control who are 23 and under (excluding Mikael Backlund, since he's already a bona fide NHLer).
At this point, Byron is facing two unfortunate truths:
1.) At age 23, he's rapidly approaching the time when he isn't considered a "prospect" anymore. Most guys who are going to be NHLers have made the NHL at this point, at least anyone who is more than a replacement level, injury call-up type guy. The list of skaters who jump from the minor leagues to the bigs after 23 and make a difference is pretty small.
2.) Small guys have to be above average scorers in the NHL to have a chance. Most big league coaches want beef on their 3rd and 4th lines, so if you're smaller and can't score at a top-6 level, the road to the NHL is extra bumpy. Byron has only proven to be an okay scorer at the AHL level so far, which is a far cry from top-6 in the show.
None of this to say Byron will never make the leap. However, he has some arrows pointing in the wrong directions, which is why he was so far down the top-15 list. He is a RFA this off-season and I assume the team will be interested in re-signing him, if for no other reason that it would look bad to cut him loose just one year after acquiring him for a former cornerstone player.
Next year will be Byron's biggest (and last) chance to make the jump to the NHL. He has some tools, but absent a big step forward he's likely to be an AHLer for life.